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Contagious: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Some diseases are contagious.
Pixabay (public domain)
Some diseases are contagious.

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about being contagious.

Whenever kids are sick, the first thing that other people, like teachers or parents or even your friends, want to know is ‘are you contagious?’ That means they’re wondering if they might catch what you have.

Contagious, spelled: C-O-N-T-A-G-I-O-U-S, means easily spread from one person to another.

Since everybody gets contagious sometimes, it’s good to know about it and know what you can do.

First, just being sick does not mean you are contagious! Not every illness is a contagious one. Things like allergy, and asthma and headaches and bee stings don’t spread from one kid to another; kids who have those conditions are not contagious. To be contagious, the illness has to be an infection. That means it’s caused by a germ. Germs are little organisms that can make us sick when they start living in our bodies. Yuck! Sicknesses like colds, sore throats, flu, stomach flu, and skin infections are caused by germs. When kids have these diseases, germs are in the thick, yellow-green gunky stuff called mucus that’s in your nose or the back of your throat. Germs can also be in poop! They can live in an infected cut and in watery cold sores. If kids have pinkeye, an eye infection where the white of your eye turns pink and your eye oozes or get crusty, the germs are in your eyes! When you have germs you’re contagious, because if you’re not careful your germs can go from your body to somebody else’s body.

Let’s try an experiment so you can see how being contagious works. Take a little sip of water so your mouth isn’t dry. Get a small mirror or borrow your parent’s cell phone. Hold the mirror or the phone two inches from your mouth and cough with your mouth open. A really big cough, like the kind you might do if you were sick. Look at the phone or the mirror. Do you see tiny droplets of water? If you were sick, every one of those tiny little droplets would have lots and lots of germs in them. If you coughed near somebody and didn’t cover your mouth, germy droplets could go in that person’s face, maybe in their nose or mouth or eyes – and make them sick.

If you’re contagious, you’ve got to be responsible. Pay attention to where the germs are. When you cough, cough into your elbow, not your hand. That way germ droplets don’t go from your hand onto people or on to things people touch, like doorknobs or pets or cups.

Sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief, not your hands. If you have pinkeye, don’t touch your eyes or the skin around your eyes. If you do touch your eye with your fingers or sneeze into your hands, wash them right after that. Always wash your hands after you use the bathroom. You don’t have to use anything fancy for washing. Plain soap and water do a great job of killing germs.

When you are sick, it’s a good idea to not help with cooking or dishes. You don’t have to stay out of the kitchen, but keep your germs away from other peoples’ faces and their food. Maybe you can sit nearby while your parents make dinner, and read a book out loud or sing or just talk and relax.

When you are contagious, it’s very important to stay positive and be nice to yourself. It’s not your fault that you’re sick and you are not creepy or ugly just because you have an infection. In fact, there are some kinds of being contagious that are really good. Kindness can be contagious. A good attitude can be contagious. They can spread from one person to another.

The next time you’re contagious, try another experiment. Be responsible about your germs and see if you can also be contagious in a positive way. Find something funny about your situation or remember how amazing it is that our wonderful, magical bodies know how to heal! You might have a cold or a cough now, but in just a few days, you’ll be back bouncing around and full of energy. You can share your gratitude in a contagious way!

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.